Blue Dragon - review.

So, I would have posted this a long time ago, but my computer died on the same day that I finished this game, about five weeks ago. After playing Blue Dragon on and off since August, I finished it, and here’s my review:

Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of the famous Final Fantasy series, went on to create his own game studio, Mistwalker, in 2004. This was big news; and, when Mistwalker finally announced its first game - Blue Dragon - you could imagine that it was even bigger news. The hype only got bigger when it was announced that two other big names in the industry - Nobuo Uematsu and Akira Toriyama - were working on the game as well. People eventually began to compare it to Chrono Trigger, a masterpiece RPG of the 1990s (surely, you’ve heard of it?) that all three of them worked on together. Of course, this was a hype it couldn’t possibly live up to.

You might be thinking “Well, what does any of that have to do with the game?” Well, reader, I believe that this hype prevents people from looking at the real strengths and weaknesses of the game. Generally, people will either say “This didn’t live up to its expectation, so it wasn’t that good” or “Of course it didn’t live up to that expectation, so it’s a great game!” I’m not saying that this reflects the reviews of every player - or even every reviewer - but allow me to add one more chip in the pile.

Blue Dragon’s story is very simple: Every year, some purple clouds appear in the sky, and bad things happen all over the world as a result. In one particular town, a “Land Shark” (use your imagination) comes and destroys large sections of the town each year… But not this year. Three friends - Shu, Jiro, and Kluke - have planned to try and take down the Land Shark! But, as they try, they realize that the Land Shark is a machine - which FLIES - and it flies off with all three of them on board. Having been taken back to a larger ship, they meet the antagonist, Nene, who seems to be behind all the bad stuff that happens all the time. As the three friends try to make their escape, they find three mysterious spheres, and a voice tells the three to swallow them. When they do, their shadows take super-cool monster forms. They then escape, vow to stop Nene, and start traveling the land doing heroic stuff and meeting new companions.

The gameplay/combat of Blue Dragon is pretty basic: Shu and co. travel along the world map to their next destination (they can also instantly warp to any place they’ve been before, which is pretty cool), see some sort of different injustice at every new place they go, and try to right it. There are no ‘random’ battles, as enemies appear on the map. You can choose to engage in battle with multiple enemies as long as they are in a certain range, and some groups of monsters will even fight amongst each other - another very cool feature. You can also determine the initiative at the beginning of battle depending on whether or not you engage a monster from the front or the back.

Combat is turn-based, with a class system, meaning that you level up your character as well as their character class. As you level up classes, you gain new skills, and you can then carry them over to new classes (i.e, if you learn the ability for low-level black magic, you can change your class to an Assasin, SwordMaster, Support Magic, etc. and use low-level black magic). Another neat addition is the ability to ‘Charge’ magic (and attacks, if you learn the skill to do so): Charging a magic spell will make it more powerful, but longer to cast, perhaps allowing other allies and enemies to take action first. There are also a few mini-games here and there, which are very fun due to their simplicity and scarcity (unlike the Final Fantasy games, which shove tedious mini-games and sidequests down your throat these days).

The music and art, created by Nobuo Uematsu and Akira Toriyama respectively, give the game a light-hearted feel, and the game looks decidedly similar to Dragon Ball Z - of course, this is no coincidence. I personally enjoyed the music, as it feels like a roll back to the more melodic, less contemporary music of Nobuo Uematsu’s compositions in the ‘Super Nintendo days’. The more simplistic, energetic compositions compliment the style of the game very, very well.

So, you might have noticed that I just recounted damn near everything about playing the game that there is to know, without making a strong judgement on anything too important. The reason for this is because, while it’s easy to pick out what’s good about the game, Blue Dragon needs to be discussed hollistically to truly understand where this game falls short.

Blue Dragon’s real problem is not that it failed to live up to its ridiculous hype, but rather, Blue Dragon’s biggest problem is that the story and the gameplay almost completely contradict each other. In other words, Blue Dragon has almost no target audience that it can appeal to entirely.

Think about it: The story is a VERY simple story. Some kids wanna stop a bad guy, who, for all you know, is just bad for no reason (even though that isn’t the case). The dialogue and script and very competently written, but they are nothing new or profound. On the contrary, the game seems to proudly call back to the days of Saturday morning cartoons, where the only thing that mattered was that there was a bad guy, and the good guys were going to take him down. So what if Jiro knows how to operate every machine the minute he sees it? He’s the SMART guy of the bunch! It’s not unlike the way Donatello could build a damned BLIMP and hide it unnoticed in the sewers. The game confidently embraces that children’s action/adventure show flavor, and makes no apologies for it.

On the other hand, the combat, while innovative and fun for a turn-based system, is still TURN-BASED. Meaning? It’s very slow in its pace, as well as its speed. It’s fairly long (about 30-35 hours to reach the end, and another 5-10 hours to be strong enough to finish the game). And, as it goes with any turn-based RPG, Blue Dragon has its fair share of grinding - if not to gain levels, then to gain job levels to obtain more skills. In other words, the kind of combat that would be boring to someone who isn’t more of an RPG veteran, and maybe even a little too difficult.

So, there you have it: The story appeals very powerfully to a very young audience, while the gameplay appeals to an older audience. A child who would be enthralled by the story of Blue Dragon would likely find the gameplay too tiresome, the game too long. An RPG vet who would appreciate the nuances of Blue Dragon’s turn-based system would likely find the story to be too juvenile to keep their attention very long - Which I can tell you is true for myself, at least; I enjoyed the game well enough, but I could never play it for longer than an hour at a time…two hours tops.

And that, is that. The game is turn-based through and through, and that was known for a long time coming. Other than that, those who ream the game for its sophomoric story are missing the point entirely. Blue Dragon was very well-crafted in each aspect, no doubt about it. The real fallback of the game can be summed up with this one challenge: I challenge anyone to fully and thoroughly appreciate the very well-done turn-based combat/class system, while being able to fully envelop themselves in the story like an eight-year old child would be able to. There are probably fewer people than you can imagine. As for you, the reader…if you enjoy reveling in the finest of turn-based RPGs, then this will whet your appetite. If you decide to take me up on that challenge…Good luck.

SUPER IMPORTANT EDIT: Also, the airship theme is just a rock version of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” Seriously, if you have the game or the OST (Disc 2 Track 19), try singing this along with the melody without laughing:

Cheeeestnuuuuts Roasting on a fiiiiiiire…
Jack Frost nipping at your nooooose…
Yuuuletiiiide carols being suung byyy a choiiiiiiir…
Folks dressed up like eskimoooooooeeees…

Caaaandleeeees and a mistletooooooe…
Help to make the seasons briiiiiight…
Tiiinyyy children with their eyyyes allll aglow find it
haaaaa-aaaard, toooo sleeeeep tooooooooooniiiiiiiight!


That’s an interesting analysis. I didn’t find that the combat system was particularly nuanced or complex, but I also didn’t have time to give the higher difficulties a whirl. I agree the story was a bit too childish. I think the only reason it turned out that way more than the standard dq clone, was Maru Maro. I wanted to fucking kill him. Aside from that, it was fairly standard fare. I think its good to keep your BoF1 review in mind in this context. We’re getting old, we’re changing and we’re seeing new things. We’ve seen good , serious story telling and we like it that way. So when we get a blast from the past from people like Sakaguchi, we’re jarred. Sakaguchi hasn’t had much power over anything for the past at least 9-10 years so for us , its really a shock to see our childhood get back in our faces like that. Our perceptions have changed.

I am also surprised you ended up not discussing the music more, of all people. I thought that this was one of Uematsu’s better work in years. I really enjoyed the music and I found it interesting how it really hearkened back on a lot of his earlier work. You really hear different styles going back all the way to FF1 ,which is interesting because if you play or listen to Lost Odyssey, LO doesn’t really do that. I liked BD’s soundtrack for being short, simple but generally good and melodic. I’m not a fan of ambient.

Indeed, that was a very good review, SG. You made a great point in that RPGs have two main appeals, the Story and The Game System (OK, some people also play them for the effects (graphics, music etc.) and the two don’t always mesh. In fact, in some games the Skill Systems aren’t even explained (as was the case with the Licenses in FF12) and that annoys me. I understand they’re trying to be as original as they can, and that’s good, but I also want something so important to at least be given a cursory explanation in the story.

And Sin is right: we must remember, not all games are aimed at us the older gamers who want more meat in our RPG epics. There certainly should be simpler RPGs for today’s kids to enjoy. (Though as SG points out, making them TOO hard is not a good idea.) Luckily there are times I’m only too happy to play a simple game, especially if the characters are likable.

I’m reminded of the first RPG I ever played, Beyond The Beyond. I rented it expecting it to be like Mario or Megaman. I was quite surprised by the RPG system of play, and, while I hardly played it (It’s a TERRIBLE game, as you well know) I was left intrigued by that style of play, which is why I later got Super Mario: Legend of the 7 Stars (the first RPG I played fully) and the rest is history. :slight_smile:

It’s fairly long (about 30-35 hours to reach the end, and another 5-10 hours to be strong enough to finish the game).
That’s long? Sounds average to me. (Of course, I’m used to playing the hell out of my games, I don’t stop until I’ve done every quest and found every item, etc. so maybe I’m just used to playing longer.) :stuck_out_tongue:

I try not to talk too much about the music other than “I enjoy it/I dislike it” and “This is what it sounds like” in a review, because in MOST cases, music doesn’t make a game worse, only better.

But yes, I felt like the Blue Dragon Soundtrack was very much a trip back into the NES/SNES days of Uematsu’s compositions. It’s funny to hear comments about Uematsu like “he’s getting old/running out of material and good ideas” all because he doesn’t write music like that more often…and then, here he comes with the Blue Dragon OST, as if to say “Yeah dudes, I got a lot more where that came from.” I enjoyed it quite a lot.

…And I liked Marumaro.

That’s not incredibly long for an RPG, you’re right. I should have been more clear: I meant that 30-45 hours to complete a game was a long time for a young child who would enjoy such a story.

Something I liked about Blue Dragon is how the maps contrast to say, Lost Odyssey. I found the maps and dungeons more interesting in how they really are old school, whereas Lost Odyssey was very much like FFX (in many ways, but my point here has to do with the maps). I think this is a design point that doesn’t often get addressed. A lot of people discuss how you interact with your environment like jumping in Xenogears - oh god - , or how you have to orient your characters in obnoxious ways in LO, but the actual design of the maps is not often addressed. In general, dungeons have had a tendency to become very small and simple in modern RPGs whereas if you look at FF4, you have essentially a little maze, like the tower of zot or bab-il. I thought it was interesting how BD returned to that a little bit.

You’re totally right. Actually, this morning, I was thinking of revising the review slightly to talk a little more specifically about what I liked in the gameplay, other than “I liked it.”

Also, I hope to have a Lost Odyssey review soon. All I really need to know is what I should do to be prepared for the last dungeon, prepare, and then finish the game.

Yeah I’m almost done with LO as well. I have just been swamped with work lately.

I liked LO nevertheless. It should’ve been entirely written by Shigematsu (is that his name?) because his brilliance, and brilliance is the term, casts a shadow on the rest of the game. His ability really highlights the need for professional writers in modern games, like you need actual orchestras instead of fake orcherstras to add that extra umph. Speaking of which the music is excellent. The characterization is skewed and the villain is very disappointing. I found the graphics outdated for a 360 game. On the design front, I thought Urha and Gohtza were the worst cities I’ve seen in a long time.

Yeah, Kiyoshi Shigematsu is his name.

You know, I’ve heard accounts that Shigematsu wrote the whole story, as well as accounts that Sakaguchi wrote the main story. I’m not sure which is true.

The music IS excellent, although I think that it’s a bit ambient for my tastes.

Characterization could have been a lot better, but it did do a lot of things right. The banter between the characters is some of the best I’ve seen outside of a Working Designs RPG. And yes, shitty villain. :confused:

And yeah, the cities are mostly dissapointing…although, I did like a LOT of things about Uhra. They really just needed to make the larger cities more…vast, I guess. Uhra in particular could have been amazing.

I know this is sorta off topic, but I saw a commercial for a Blue Dragon t.v. show that will air on Cartoon Network next Saturday. I guess with the game getting so many comparisons to a Saturday morning cartoon show, someone decided to make it one. :hahaha;

The show actually premiered today, only at 1 AM. I was quite surprised by it, I was looking to see One Piece and they aired this instead. I hope it’s only on hiatus!

Btw, the show seems to follow a different storyline, as the main kid finds he already has the shadow power, as opposed to being convinced to swallow a pill by a voice to get it (makes much more sense that way.) I think I’ll follow it, it might be fun.